Britton and team Ireland strike double gold
IT MAY have been Baltic in Budapest but the warmth of Fionnuala Britton's victory smile melted the frozen landscape after she led Ireland to double gold yesterday.
No athlete – not even British 'golden girl' Paula Radcliffe in her prime – had ever managed to retain the European Cross Country women's title.
But the petite Irish star defied history to become champion for the second year running.
And to cap off what she called "a perfect day", she and her teammates also bagged the women's team title for the first time in history.
"We've been talking about a team medal since September because half of us were on the team that was fourth in 2009," Ms Britton revealed of their secret 'double' target that caused a massive surprise.
"We thought we might get silver or bronze, we really didn't believe we could ever win gold so that has made this just even more special," she added.
Unlike last year, when she romped to victory in Slovenia, the 28-year-old from Brittas Bay, Co Wicklow, was under pressure every step of the way and involved in a dramatic finish, retaining her crown by just two seconds on a treacherous snow-bound course and temperatures of –3C.
But the conditions didn't affect the Irish women or their huge travelling army of supporters, who gate-crashed the medal ceremonies to bellow out a warming chorus of 'Ole Ole'.
Her teammates, Olympic marathoners Linda Byrne and Ava Hutchinson, were eighth and 20th respectively; Lizzie Lee was 23rd; Sarah McCormack was 36th; and Sara Treacy was 42nd.
The combined score of the first four Irish home was 52 points – which was exactly the same as France but, in a dramatic climax, Ireland were deemed winners on 'count-back' because Lee's finishing position was higher than France's fourth-placed runner (28th).